Why focussing on your people will bring your business from good to great

„A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected“, is commonly quoted. In business, this principle of human behavior can bring companies, projects and teams from good to great. And as business leaders thirst for greatness, they are looking for techniques of how to trigger the apprecition-button of employees in order to get the result.

But human beings only feel appreciated when they sense it is about them as an individual. We have quite precise antennas to determine whether someone likes us as an individual or only the contribution we can bring to the P&L.

Therefore, it is true that people who feel appreciated will contribute above expectation level. But this principle cannot be turned into: I use appreciation so that I get more contribution for my project. This is called manipulation.

True appreciation requires real feelings, interaction and interest towards the people you are leading. This appreciation is not tied to an expected outcome. As a leader, this can be hard sometimes as you are investing in people and in the relationship with them without seeing immediate ‚results‘.

Results of a leadership style that incorporates real appreciation play out in the longterm, e.g. positive reputation of you as a leader among the team (hence, free in-flow of applications without long hours at recruiting events), laughter and good mood in team meetings (which has carry-over effects in client meetings that become much easier), extra-miles without complaints (that secures the next deadline without you having to work all weekend)

Even clients will realize when your team truly likes you and when collaboration is based on trust, appreciation and – when grown for a long time – friendship. This is the game changer. These moments will catapult you from ‚some consulting company‘ to ‚preferred partner‘ – as the client likes to have motivated people around who bring in a good atmosphere.

Appreciation is a root cause for those moments. But only when you invest in your people without aiming at the financial goals, you will get the results that make all the difference – even financially. It‘s a paradoxon. Think about it for a while and you will see, it is true.

How to be hated by your team easily

Delegation is key to any management role. Wrongly used, it can break trust and kill the fun at work quickly. Find out how delegation can work in your favour.

“I am looking forward to my promotion as I will be a mentor by then and I can delegate all the tasks I hate to the people assigned to me”, my conversation partner announces proudly. My faces freezes as I am thinking of all the young professionals who will get ‘the tasks he hates’. I am wondering how he has been treated in his first professional years that he actually believes that he should fill his leadership role like that.

A colleague comes to my mind who once said about his boss: “Well, now he just delegated the shit he doesn’t like to me and leaves.” In that situation, I knew the task and the boss – and I came to a total different conclusion. It was a normal delegation of a task appropriate in size and timeline towards the grade delegated to. Nonetheless, the personal story of that colleague was that he got ‘the shit’ and in turn, he was convinced that delegating the unwanted tasks down the line is part of the freedom a higher hierarchical position inherits.

But how to delegate appropriately?

For sure, delegation is a key part in business and as people develop in their leadership role, delegation is a very essential part. This is not only true for the one delegating but also for the one receiving work. As a rookie, you need leaders who assign tasks to you in order for you to grown. Let’s have a look at some hypothesis regarding good delegation:

Delegate only task you would do yourself

This topic doesn’t refer to your willingness to do it but rather the necessity of the task. It is a ‘Does it have to be done?’ consideration. Some tasks probably never will be fun, e.g. keeping track of the to do list. But they are serving a certain purpose and you would do it if no one else was there. Assumably, you have done it in the past and everyone in your area of expertise needs to do it sometime.

When delegating these tasks, bring in empathy. Explain why the task is relevant and what it contributes to. You can be honest in saying that this isn’t the coolest task of all times but make sure that you bring in appreciation for your team member.

Delegate with a learning curve in mind

From my experience, young professionals are eager to learn. They want to explore new things, understand the big picture and become experts in their jobs. As someone delegating tasks, you can make use of that eagerness by explaining how the to do is contributing to the learning curve.

Maybe taking meeting minutes is the job at hand. Even in the most boring meeting, there are learnings. Regarding the document, you could teach how good meeting minutes look like and what needs to be included. Regarding the meeting, you could highlight the roles of each attendee, the interaction between the people and how moderation techniques contribute to an aspired outcome.

It requires some creativity of you and walking the extra mile in terms of not only delegating but also creating a learning opportunity. But the results are phenomenal as people will like to work with and for you.

Delegate with a readiness to give feedback

The privilege of delegating tasks comes with the responsibility of giving feedback. Feedback is relevant for a good quality result. In addition, feedback contributes to the learning curve of the person you work with.

If you regularly shy away from giving feedback, it is a good moment to reflect. What is hindering you giving feedback? What assumptions around feedback to you believe? Are they true? Giving feedback is essential and if you don’t take that responsibility, you cause major trouble in your team – which is invisible to you most of the times.

Delegate with a heart that cares

Overall, delegation is working well when you actually care about the people you work with. Noone wants to work with you if they are used for tasks you hate. But if there is a sense of ‘care’, most people will not only work with and for you but even walk the extra mile.

Why leadership is lacking on partner level

It is obvious: the same type of people become partner in a consulting firm or enter the C-level in big companies. ‘Type’ refers mainly to behaviour and habitus, but it is very often accompanied with specific gender, age, skin colour, academic background etc.. The result of the common career paths in the western hemisphere is so homogeneous that it is obvious that there are patterns at work which are very forceful even if they are not used with intent.

Most people of that specific leadership group don’t like that thought. They are convinced that they only made the way ‘to the top’ because they have been hard working and invested a lot in their career. Some may admit that there was some luck involved at certain stages. But definitely no one feels responsible that the outcome of the career process is a homogenous group. In addition, there is not even a reason from their perspective why this should be changed, since the selection process worked in their favour. And after all, each one of that group really worked hard to achieve the current status.

Let’s pause this thought for a moment and think of a garden. If your goal is to have a lot of green in your backyard, you could plant quick-growing plants that overgrow everything. They are efficient in making your garden ‘green’ within months. But if you compare the result to a well-designed and maintained English garden, you realize that you have the same colour but the joy, relaxation and admiration that the English garden evokes, will never happen in the homogeneous ‘green hell’ that grew in your backyard.

The English garden needed intent, a plan and a lot of work. There is a gardener who decides where to put what plant, who cuts branches and loose ends and who has a long term vision for the areal. The result is a place where people gain energy, love to spend time and find joy.

If you want to turn your backyard from just being homogeneous green into a place where people enjoy being, you need a vision where to go and a plan how to get there. It will require you to cut off leaves of the current plants no matter how big they have become and how much green they bring into your garden. You need to make space for other plants and keep the space for them even if they are not growing at the same speed. You need intent in developing your garden.

I believe, career in business is very similar. Unsteered, it will result in a homogeneous mass of people who will focus on their own best interest – bottomline, it is measured in money. Once your company only has people in leadership positions who are focussing on the money, it is like your backyard that is only ‘green’ – but no one likes to be there.

Therefore, although earning money is a central part in a career for each person, it needs to be put into perspective towards a greater picture. Companies need to think about their future state and what kind of behaviour they want to grow so that people are attracted to that place. ‘You can earn a lot of money here’ won’t do the trick if bad behaviour and attitudes are killing new ways of thinking.

Each company needs a gardener (team). They need to define how the company should grow. At the same time, they are plants themselves. They are part of the game and they contribute to the beauty or ugliness of the garden. And as they are plants in the very same garden, they need to have the courage to cut their own leaves at times when it starts killing other plants. This will mean to put the ego aside, question self-beliefs and personal opinions, decide for the greater good and against the personal benefit at times and walk in a humble mindset. It requires a lot of each person in a leading position and it has an effect on personal beliefs and behaviour.

This is where leadership starts!

Why leading a few is harder than leading many

When people think about leadership, very often they envision a large group of people. Getting up the career ladder results in many people in their department – corresponding displayed in the income. But is this the place to learn leadership?

From a personal perspective, I learned the most of my leaders when I have been one-on-one with them or in a small group. In these moments I was able to connect to them – and sense what drives them. They shared their heart more openly and I could understand their reasoning and decisions. Yet, they were still my leaders and I was aware of the hierarchy involved.

Same is true for my teams today. In a smaller setting, no one can hide. Not even the leader. There is this ‘scary’ part in there where one is getting vulnerable. As a leader, it can feel very shaky when admitting weaknesses. It needs a lot of trust in a team to speak your mind openly. But if you manage to create that space, trust grows, people start blooming and the learning curve gets steep. These environments are the base for open honest feedback – be it wholeheartedly praise or words for growth.

Creating that team environment needs time and work. As a leader, you are responsible for the team spirit. You decide how much you share and in what tone you set out meetings. Generally, people mirror your behaviour. Give them time to build trust and see you consistent behaviour. Once they have seen you being authentic and trustworthy even under pressure, they will open up and bring in their share, too.

To give you an example: I always start my meetings in a good mood. Smiling and smalltalk is setting the tone – even in stressful seasons. Attendees learn quickly that ‘good mood’ is to be expected and soon after a series of meetings, they come in with the same smile. Once that point is reached, I don’t have to give much energy anymore, because the tone is up and everyone enjoys that style of a meeting. But it still requires consistency and effort by me to keep going and lead in the way I want to be mirrored.

You can change the world today

Here is a true story from the 70s. We are in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge are in charge and rule the country brutally. Within 4 years up to two million people die. In those years, a baby is found by a swiss lady working for the red cross. The baby lays abandoned near the road to die. The forces of the Khmer Rouge are close and the lady decides quickly: she rescures the little baby girl, takes her to Switzerland and finds parents for adoption.

Roughly 35 years later, that former baby girl is now a highly educated, healthy woman – with a family of her own. She and her husband visit her roots – being in Cambodia for the first time. They fall in love with the country and the people. They decide to move to Cambodia and start an NGO that helps hundreds of kids and teens every week to get education, food and a vision for their life. Hundreds are blessed today, because one lady back in the 70s takes an abandoned baby girl from the street – without fearing the consequences.

I have heard the story many times. I have been to the NGO in Cambodia. And still, I am in awe every time I think of that storylining again. That one woman fleeing the Khmer Rouge changes a whole generation of Cambodian people today who live in that area.

It leads to the question: Are you aware that the decisions you take today can influence many people in the future?

What if the young professional you are training today, becomes the next head of a big department? What did that person learn from you and most likely will use in his/her leadership style?

What if you could speak potential and positivity in your team mates instead of bringing your emotional ‘bad-hair-day’ to work? You have a position today – no matter how insignificant you might feel. And it is up to you how you fill your work day and interaction with clients and colleagues.

Let’s think of this for a moment: Everytime you consider the long term perspective, a lot of the current hustle becomes irrelevant. The emotionally nagging moments get flattened when you think of what good can come out of it.

You lost an important client? – That’s bad. But how do you react? And who is watching? What kind of an example are you?

You could pick a fight with a colleague – or you surrender and ‘loose’ this one argument for winning a favour in the future?

You have an impact on your team mates everyday. You choose what kind of an example you want to be.

Why does my boss earn so much money?

“Whether my boss is there or not – it doesn’t make any difference”, I recently heard someone say. It displays the missing transparency of what is a boss’ job. One thing that is quickly mentioned in this discussion, is the high salary that one gets for being in a management position. And most likely, the person mentioning the money, is the one trying to reach a management position, too.

Unluckily, this perception of a boss not doing anything useful to the companies cause, leads to many new managers following that same approach – not realizing of how mistaken they are.

So, if you want to become a successful person in a managing role in your company, think of the following ‘to dos’ and check whether you are willing to do them. For sure, you will find people in your organisation that are in management positions not doing the named points. But you can decide for yourself, what kind of leader you want to become.

Take decisions

One essential part of a management position is the responsibility of taking decision. People will come to you with options, but it will be your responsibility of choosing on how to proceed. You can probably recall several ocasions in which the respective leader did not take a decision – and how harmful the result was.

Taking decisions makes you vulnerable in a way. People will know where you stand and what opinion you have. This is why many leaders refrain from taking a decision. Often this comes in shades of procastination or delegation of the decision to a gremium or lower rank.

But lets be clear: part of the salary of a management role is the responsibility for taking decisions – even the controverse and hard ones.

Give feedback

As long as all your team members are working fine, reaching their goals and have no conflicts, feedback sessions are easy. Giving praise and appreciation is the fun part of feedback. But if destructive behaviour of single people are destroying the atmosphere or weak results are torpedating the company results, it becomes tough.

Addressing destructive behaviour can result in conflict – and conflict needs energy, time and clear guidance. And this is for sure part of the management role and salary. Yet, a lot of managers refrain from walking into this métier. They neither want to spend the time nor their energy in confronting people with feedback. They are rather hoping that the problem somehow goes away.

Unluckily, un-feedbacked bad behaviour will expand and eventually kill the atmosphere; resulting in low cooperation, less delivery quality and in the end high attrition.

What helps is ‘radical candor’ as Kim Scott names it (see her book ‘Radical Candor’). Radical Candor means being totally clear about the content while having the heart of developing the person who gets feedback. No sugar coating. But also no condemnation. Setting clear boundaries and rules for the team and giving freedom for everyone to develop. It’s hard, as it requires a lot of self-reflection of the leader. But it is part of the management role.

Think ahead

Ideally, leaders don’t only focus on the present but have an idea of where they want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. They are not consumed by all problems at hand but have the capacity of thinking several steps ahead. They can anticipate what impact their decision might have.

This ability as well as the time of getting to a well-thought-through decision is part of the their job. As hence, is displayed in their salary.

If you like to have a boss with the named qualities, take action and become that boss yourself.

Successful team leads focus on these topics

It’s a never ending discussion: should you focus on strengths or weaknesses when developing yourself and others?

What is your opinion? How do you develop yourself? And in consequence: how do you develop your team?

Research shows that 20% of your team will disengage from their work, when you as their manager focus solely on their weaknesses. While only 1% disengage when you focus on their strength (see Strengthsfinder 2.0 from Gallup, 2007, p. IV). There is just one thing that is even worse than focussing on weaknesses or strengths: ignoring your people completely. Research shows that 40% of your staff disengages in their work when not being developed at all.

But what are strengths, you can find in yourself? What are the focus areas you could search for in your team?

Here are some examples – pulled together from classical ressources like Johari adjectives, strengthsfinder or MBTI:

  • Straight communication
  • Analytical correctness
  • Love for detail
  • Ambition to win
  • Stick to rules
  • Focus on deadlines
  • Good time management
  • Feeling for team atmosphere
  • Vision for project setup
  • Courage to speak up
  • Persistence in argument

All of these strengths bring in positive and negative situations within a team. Your job as a manager is to find the right spot where each person can shine.

Same is true, if you feel unhappy in your current position. Maybe you cannot work according to your strengths and you need a change. Analyse who you are and what you need – and then find the place where you fit in.

It’s just a small nugget to give you food for thought. Dig deeper through the named sources if you want to develop yourself in this area.

Your list of „Why not“ kills your career

How do you like people telling you first thing why your ideas and plans won‘t work?

While a reality check is quite healthy from time to time, way too often people rather think of „why not“ instead of „how“. I see this daily with my clients and some of my colleagues. Instead of being the driver of change, they know all the reasons and risks why an idea will fail.

But guess what … you are not being paid for listing all the „why not possible“ points. Your boss employed you to solve problems. And that is basically why your clients pay your company, too. You solve a problem for them, they cannot solve on their own.

Whether you are providing a service or a product – at core, you are adding value to your clients lives. And if you don’t add value, you are – quite frankly – useless.

If you are self-employed, you see the effects in your sales numbers immediatly. The bigger the organization you are working for, the effect of your problem-focussed mindset will be less obvious. Maybe you wonder why you don‘t get the promotion you are longing for. Maybe you are not asked to work on the interesting assigntments.

Check on your words for a while. What are you talking about when asked? Are you the one that knows all the „why not“ or can you improve ideas by adding potential „how to“?

Challenge yourself a bit and start thinking in new ways. If you are very trained in thinking and speaking „why not“ this will feel wired – maybe even unrealistic. But keep in mind: unless you are not precisely asked what the risks of an option are, you will be perceived as a stumbling block to the idea and people will take you out of scope.

Instead, if you can add value by bringing up some ideas how things can work, you stay in the conversation. And when the reality check is due, you can add all the relevant risks that you see.

You see, it is not about leaving all „why not“ out of consideration. But it is about timing. New ideas need some space to evolve. The reality check comes in later.

Build the workplace of your dreams

„You can do this“, a glimpse of encouragement runs through her mind while she is facing her challenge. Despite her fear she lifts her chin and takes the next step. „You can do this“, she recalls the words of her friends and family. Confidence rises. „I can do this“, she speaks out loud and takes the leap.

Independent whether you need to make a decison, want to face your fear or take the next step in your work, encouragement will always lift the weight of insecurity and worry. Life gets easier when you have the courage and vision for the path ahead.

Same is true in your working environment. Each day you face new tasks, projects or people. Having a voice of encouragement around will increase your mood and things will work more smoothly.

Encourage [en-kur-ij]

To inspire with courage, spirit or confidence

Dictionary

Encouragement literally means to inspire someone or oneself with courage. By speaking words of encouragement to someone you actually speak courage and confidence in that person`s life. For people these positive words are like water to a plant. It is a necessity to grow.

The beautiful truth is that you can be an encouragement to your clients, colleagues and bosses. Every day you can decide whether you want to water the souls of the people around you. By speaking words of encouragement people around you will start blooming – giving you the possibility to work and live with people that are happy and courageous.

I am convinced that you can build the team of your dreams when you start speaking positive affirmation to the people around you. Be aware: It requires you to take control of your thoughts and words. If you think shit all day, probability is high that you will speak shitty, e.g. destructive comments or gossip. But if you master your thoughts and direct your words to the uplifting of people, you will see an effect in the people around you within weeks.

Same is true for your boss. People in leadership roles hear very seldomly positive talk. This is due to their role; when all is well, they won’t get involved in the matter. But when there are problems, they are the adress of escalation, leading to a lot of negative topics on their table. Ideally they are mature enough to handle the negativity; reality is that they often push down their negativity on the team. Take advantage of such behaviour and invest encouragement into your boss. Be the one with joy at work and give your boss a good time talking to you – which doesn’t mean to avoid the hard topics. It just means that you speak hope and confidence when it is appropriate.

Who will you encourage today?

Why being UNHAPPY is actually great

First day of the week. Hitting the office right on time, starting your computer, getting the first cup of coffee, checking your email while trying to enjoy the first zip. The routine is killing you 15minutes into the new working week.

And yet, you keep getting back at this desk every day. Emotionless. Unhappy. But steady and on time.

I know why. The paycheck is convenient. It pays your rent. Your family. Puts money into your bank account to pile up for the future. The future… you are convinced that it will be brighter than today. Just a few more office days like these and then…

I had lots of talks like this with colleagues over coffee. Being unhappy, yet neither willing nor able to change.

Truth is, my mornings look quite the same. Yet, I am looking forward to each one of those working days, loving what I do – although I most certainly don`t like each moment of it. Where is the difference?

The greatest traveller is he who has been able once to take a tour around himself.

Confucius

Conficius is talking about taking new perspectives of oneself. Once you are able to change your thinking and getting a new mindset, you become aware of who you are and who you are not. You challenge all those “I cannot, because…” and start questioning “How could I …?” You get bold in questioning all your assumptions, e.g. “I will never be…”, “xy is impossible because…”. And while you are taking a tour around yourself, you might realize that you actually don`t need to travel away from your current location, but rather from your current mindset.

Here is an example: I know that I am most happy, when I can be a blessing to other people. I feel fulfilled when others are having a good time talking to me. [Will I get this right every moment of my life? No. But I am trying. I decided to bring the best version of me into conversations.] Therefore, I asked myself “How can I be happy at work?” Answer: By being a blessing for my colleagues. And while I bring the best version of myself to work, I experience a lot of positive moments, making others – and ultimately me – happy. I realized, I don`t have to change my job. I rather have to change my mindset and attitude. And all of a sudden everything falls into place and I am happy.

If you are currently in this unhappy place, be bold enough to check on your assumpations and narratives. Coaching can be a tool that is helping you getting your thoughts around the important stuff that matters. Be asured: there is absolutely no reason why you should be hating your life. Unhappiness is just a great indicator that it is time to think about yourself and start travelling around yourself.